How to address security clearance decisions and changes


Here is some advice on responding to security clearance decisions and on maintaining security clearances that was provided to me by Derrick Dortch, president of the Diversa Group, a career consulting firm focused on federal jobs:

• If you fail a polygraph test, your target agency will not necessarily inform you of this development — even though a failed polygraph would almost certainly doom your security investigation. If you are not informed of polygraph results within about two weeks of taking the test, ask the agency about your results and the status of your investigation.

• If you are denied a clearance because you failed your polygraph test, request to redo the test. Some agencies allow applicants to take two, sometimes even three, polygraph exams.

• Some agencies only inform applicants of clearance denials with vague explanations such as, “We have determined that you would not be a good fit with our agency.” If this happens, ask for a specific reason for your denial. Support your request by citing any factors that may mitigate your liabilities or reasons why any problematic polygraph results may have produced false negatives.

• If you’re denied a clearance, immediately file a request for reconsideration even if you are certain that it would be denied. Why? Because if your request for reconsideration is on record, your target agency’s denial won’t be the last word on your worthiness for a clearance, and your discussion of mitigating factors would counter the denial.

• If the agency refuses to disclose why you failed your security investigation and will not reconsider your application, you can request the file on your security investigation under the Freedom of Information Act. While some agencies respond positively to such requests, others, such as the CIA, usually do not.

• Once you receive a security clearance, ask an expert on operations security in your office to explain all rules that you must follow to maintain your security clearance. Then follow restrictions on your use of email; restrictions on discussing your work with others, including members of your family; restrictions on the types of communication devices, computers and documents you may take out of the office; and restrictions on your use of social media.

Transgressions of such rules have triggered the cancellations of many security clearances, even in cases where the secured employee was unaware that he had broken security rules.

You also will want to maintain a clean record so that you will pass any future investigations that you may have to undergo to upgrade your clearance level.

Looking for openings that target clearable or cleared applicants? Find them by searching under the term “security clearance” at and by surfing through the careers websites of your target agencies.

Because many openings targeting clearable or cleared applicants are not advertised for security reasons, also inquire about openings with the human resources offices of agencies in the financial management, scientific research, homeland security, diplomacy, defense, auditing, law enforcement and intelligence communities. In addition, use

A federal career coach or attorney with expertise on security clearances can advise you on selecting agencies whose security policies would accommodate your background, preparing for investigations, practicing for interviews, appealing denials, or determining how long you should wait to reapply for a security clearance.


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